Realizing the Power of Love

Scripture: 1 John 4.7-8
Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.

Reflection: Realizing the Power of Love
By John Tillman

It is not too often that the full text of a sermon will be printed in the New York Times. But at culturally significant moments sometimes the Good News is deemed news “fit to print.”

This past weekend’s sermon by Bishop Michael Curry at the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle was one such moment. Among many scriptures on love which he referenced, Bishop Curry expanded on 1 John 4, which we read today.

The New Testament says it this way, “beloved, let us love one another because love is of God and those who love are born of God and know God, those who do not love do not know God.” Why? For God is love. There’s power in love. There’s power in love to help and heal when nothing else can. There’s power in love to lift up and liberate when nothing else will. There’s power in love to show us the way to live.

Bishop Curry, did not merely address the power of love for a young couple in marriage, but the power of love as a force for changing the world for the better:

Jesus began the most revolutionary movement in all of human history, a movement grounded in the unconditional love of God for the world. A movement mandating people to live that love. And in so doing, to change not only their lives but the very life of the world itself.

I’m talking about some power, real power. Power to change the world. If you don’t believe me, well, there were some old slaves in America’s antebellum south who explained the dynamic power of love and why it has the power to transform. They explained it this way. They sang a spiritual, even in the midst of their captivity, it’s one that says there’s a balm in Gilead. A healing balm, something that can makes things right.

There is a balm in Gilead to make the wounded whole. There is a balm in Gilead to heal the sin-sick soul. One of the stanzas actually explains why: they said, If you cannot preach like Peter and you cannot pray like Paul, you just tell the love of Jesus how he died to save us all.

The Balm of Gilead and the healing it brings is not only across the Jordan. It’s here now. Available to us through the power of the Holy Spirit.

As John writes, “In this world, we are like Jesus.” The selflessness of God’s love in us, and the actions that should flourish from it have the power, with the Holy Spirit, to change our world.

Think and imagine a world where love is the way. Imagine our homes and families when love is the way. Imagine neighborhoods and communities where love is the way. Imagine governments and nations where love is the way. Imagine business and commerce when love is the way. Imagine this tired old world when love is the way, unselfish, sacrificial redemptive.

Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
Blessed are they who do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled. — Matthew 5.6

– Prayer from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle.

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Isaiah 26 (Listen – 2:58)
1 John 4 (Listen – 2:58)

This Weekend’s Readings
Isaiah 27 (Listen – 2:16) 1 John 5 (Listen – 3:00)
Isaiah 28 (Listen – 4:49) 2 John 1 (Listen – 1:50)

Suffering for Our True Identity

Scripture: 1 John 3.13-14
Do not be surprised, my brothers and sisters, if the world hates you. We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love each other. Anyone who does not love remains in death.

Reflection: Suffering for Our True Identity
By John Tillman

John is direct with his readers—it is not our goal to get the world to like us. In fact, we should not be surprised when they hate us.

Though a beloved author now, Madeleine L’Engle experienced what John meant and she might have added that we can’t even guarantee that other Christians will like us.

Her most well known work, A Wrinkle in Time, has been banned both by those who thought of it as Christian proselytizing as well as by those who felt it reflected poorly on Christianity. Double whammy.

As she said 40 years ago, when Walking on Water was published:

When I am referred to in an article or a review as a ‘practising Christian’ it is seldom meant as a compliment.

It is perfectly all right, according to literary critics, to be Jewish, or Buddhist, or Sufi, or a pre-Christian druid.

It is not all right to be a Christian. And if we ask why, the answer is a sad one; Christians have given Christianity a bad name.

They have let their lights flicker and grow dim. They have confused piosity with piety, smugness with joy.

During the difficult period in which I was struggling through my “cloud of unknowing” to return to the Church and the Christ, the largest thing which deterred me was that I saw so little clear light coming from those Christians who sought to bring me back to the fold.

But I’m back and grateful to be back, because through God’s loving grace, I did meet enough people who showed me that light of love which the darkness cannot extinguish.

Many use the crutch of “bad Christians” as an excuse to limp away from the Savior rather than come to him to be healed.

We will never remove the excuse of there being some who live in smugness instead of joy. But L’Engle was led back to faith not by a huge movement of the church, but by individuals.

We need to encourage the church as a whole to shine brighter, however, we can do for one what we would do for all by living out the chief indicator of our identity, love, and the visible evidence of it, righteous actions.

Peter and John agree that doing good is no guarantee that we will not suffer the hatred of the world, but if we suffer for doing good, at least we are showing the world our true identity.

Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
Blessed are they who do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled. — Matthew 5.6

– Prayer from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle.

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Isaiah 25 (Listen – 1:59)
1 John 3 (Listen – 3:21)

Not Abandoned :: Worldwide Prayer

Scripture: 1 John 2.12
I am writing to you, dear children,
because your sins have been forgiven on account of his name.

Reflection: Not Abandoned :: Worldwide Prayer
A Prayer of Thanks for God’s Pursuing Presence and Care from the USA

From my youth, oh Lord, from my
youth you have been my refuge.
In the days of my innocence, you have
Been my place of hiding, my home and my safety.

Then came the times of my rebellion, the days
of my senseless rage, when I abandoned
The ways of God, and followed in the vanity
Of trusting in the strength of men.

Yet you were there, in the midst of my despair,
You did not abandon me the way I did you,
Nor did you treat me with the contempt
I treated you with, the God over all, in my pride.

Instead, you rescued me from evil men, you
Stole me from the houses of the wicked
And planted me among the olive groves of
the righteous, among the granaries of the holy.

When I had lost my way, and grieved at my condition
You took pity on me, and melted the heavens
For my sake. You came down to my place of derision
And took me in your arms.

*Prayer from Hallowed be Your Name: A collection of prayers from around the world, Dr. Tony Cupit, Editor.

Prayer: The Cry of the Church
O God, come to my assistance! O Lord, make haste to help me! — Psalm 69.2

– Prayer from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle.

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Isaiah 24 (Listen – 3:11)
1 John 2 (Listen – 4:04)

Incarnational, Artful Living

Scripture: 1 John 1.4
We write this to make our joy complete.

Reflection: Incarnational, Artful Living
By John Tillman

Madeleine L’Engle’s writings on the incarnational nature of art go beautifully with John’s writing. John focuses heavily on the mystery of the incarnation using some of the most artistic and beautifully poetic language of the New Testament.

In Walking on Water, L’Engle discusses the unique, incarnational nature of artistic work.

The artist who is a Christian, like any other Christian, is required to be in this world, but not of it. We are to be in this world as healers, as listeners, and as servants.

In art we are once again able to do all the things we have forgotten; we are able to walk on water; we speak to the angels who call us; we move, unfettered, among the stars.

We write, we make music, we draw pictures, because we are listening for meaning, feeling for healing. And during the writing of the story, or the painting, or the composing or singing or playing, we are returned to that open creativity which was ours when we were children.

We cannot be mature artists if we have lost the ability to believe which we had as children. An artist at work is in a condition of complete and total faith.

With the Holy Spirit in you, you are a creator. You manifest Christ in this world. Don’t downplay any creative acts he may inspire you to undertake. The humbler they seem the greater impact they may have for the kingdom of God.

Create a meal for guests. Create a shelter for birds out of broken fence planks. Create a garden in a barren spot of earth. Create space in your community for the outcast and the rejected.

When you create, you are walking in the light of him who said, “Let there be light.

Walking in the light, as John describes, is like walking on water—something L’Engle believes we still can and must do.

We, like Peter, don’t do it because of who we are, but because of who we are with. We move into actions of faith with the childlike belief in our companion, Jesus Christ.

It is no surprise that John, the artistic Apostle, is best able to approach and communicate the mystery of the incarnation. Art is incarnation—an act of love lived out in a specific creative way.

May we “make our joy complete” through incarnational tasks, creating joyful expressions of the gospel in our lives.

Prayer: The Greeting
You are my God, and I will thank you; you are my God, and I will exalt you. — Psalm 118.28

– Prayer from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle.

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Isaiah 23 (Listen – 2:50)
1 John 1 (Listen – 1:28)

Quieted with Love :: Advent’s Love

Reflection: Quieted with Love :: Advent’s Love
By Steven Dilla

“We, today, have a language to celebrate waywardness,” observes contemporary artist Makoto Fujimura, “but we do not have a cultural language to bring people back home.” This reality makes the prophetic words of Zephaniah stand out:

The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you with his love; he will exult over you with loud singing.

The Hebrew language, despite having extraordinarily fewer words than modern languages like English, dedicates multiple words to describing the idea and experience of love. The word the authors, poets and artists of the Hebrew Bible frequently use for God’s love is hesed, meaning God’s covenant, unfailing love.

Another word for love, often used to describe different types of love in human relationships, is ahab.

Jacob’s ahab for Rachel gives him the dedication to work 14 years for a chance at her hand in marriage. It’s ahab as a passionate, unrelenting love.

Jonathan’s ahab for his friend David leads him to remove his royal robe and place it over David’s shoulders—a symbol that David was now a rightful heir to the throne, as well as everything that belonged to Jonathan, the son of the king. It’s ahab as selfless, sacrificial love.

Zephaniah says God pursues his people in ahab.

God’s love for us is passionate and unrelenting—he pursued us even to death on a cross.

Through resurrection Christ has clothed us with the garments of salvation; he has covered us with the robe of righteousness. We are rightful heirs to the Kingdom of God, as well as everything that belongs to Jesus, the Son of the King.

Advent, as a season of reflection, tunes our hearts to depths of God’s love for us. As a season of anticipation, Advent focuses our hope to the day Christ will restore our disquieted souls, heal our deepest wounds, and rejoice over us as his beloved children.

Listen: God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen by Ella Fitzgerald (1:27)

The Small Verse
Keep me, Lord as the apple of your eye and carry me under the shadow of your wings. — Psalm 17.8

– From 
Christmastide: Prayers for Advent Through Epiphany from The Divine Hours by Phyllis Tickle.

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
2 Chronicles 6.12-42 (Listen – 7:17)
1 John 5 (Listen – 3:00)

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